Tasos Koutoulas and Viktoria Halltell meet at Restaurant Q for a language training session. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Swedish lessons at full speed

Published Dec 19, 2016

Really good, interesting and effective. That’s what Ph.D. student Tasos Koutoulas thinks about KTH’s new intensive Swedish language course. A big plus is the language practice he gets through meetings with his study buddy, Victoria Halltell.

Once a week, Tasos Koutoulas , Ph.D. student in Transport Science, meets Viktoria Halltell , Senior Administrator for the university adminstration, for lunch and language practice.

Tasos is one of the participants in the new intensive course in Swedish and Swedish working culture that started in the autumn. In order to get more opportunities to practise the language the students are provided with their own study buddy, a Swedish-speaking KTH employee. Victoria is Tasos’ study buddy.

When we meet them at Restaurant Q Tasos is a little unsure if he'll cope with doing the full interview in Swedish. We agree to try to stick to Swedish but to switch to English if it becomes too difficult.

“But I only speak Swedish with you; I’m very firm about that,” interjects Viktoria.

“Yes, it’s very good. Very hard, but very good,” says Tasos, in Swedish.

Strange rules

This is Tasos and Viktoria’s fourth lunch meeting, and this time Tasos has been given the task of reading a newspaper article that they will discuss. He has chosen an article in Metro about studying abroad.

“Did you understand everything?” Viktoria asks Tasos.

“Not exactly; I used a dictionary to look up quite a bit of it,” he says.

“Did you understand everything?” asks Viktoria.

Among other things the article contains a column about strange rules and regulations in different countries. Viktoria wonders if Tasos has encountered any laws in Sweden that he thinks are strange.

“Not exactly laws, but I was a little bit surprised to lose my laundry room time because I came to the laundry room an hour after the booking had started,” he says.

“Aha, well that’s how it is. If you don’t use your booking at the appointed time someone else gets to take it over,” explains Viktoria.

Great interest

The intensive course is being offered by KTH Relocation/KTH Staff training and Development, and started in the autumn on a pilot basis. Another pilot will start in January and, if that goes well, the course will be made permanent from the next academic year.

The project also includes the recruitment of study buddies and brings them together with the course participants. There has been great interest in the course and in being a study buddy.

“We had so much interest that we had to whittle down the applicants for the first course that started in October. And it only took a few hours to put together a sufficient number of study buddies,” says Lotta Rosenfeldt, project manager for the programme.

During the eight-week course, every study buddy commits to having a weekly lunch meeting the student they are mentoring. Lotta Rosenfeldt points out that the project gives both parties the chance to make new contacts and expand their networks.

Viktoria and Tasos meet once a week.

For her part, Viktoria Halltell also sees her commitment as a way to pay a little bit back for the language course in Cambridge that she did under KTH’s auspices.

 “I thought that it was ‘payback time’ now. I also think it is great fun to work with languages and I myself have studied in France,” she says.

Friends in Sweden

Tasos Koutoulas comes from Greece and worked as a civil engineer for five years in his hometown of Thessaloniki before he decided to study for a Ph.D. Part of the reason he chose Sweden and KTH was because he had friends who had studied here before.

“I was on holiday in Sweden and I thought it was really lovely here. And KTH is the best university for my area of study.

Tasos has now been in Sweden for a year and eight months, and as well as a first introductory course in Swedish at KTH he also tried to learn Swedish at SFI (Swedish for Immigrants).

“But I dropped out after three lessons. It didn’t give me anything, because we were at such different levels in the group that it was hard to move forward.”

The KTH course is much more efficient, he says. It is aimed at employed postgraduate students and researchers who are new to Sweden, and also aims to give participants a better understanding of KTH and Swedish working culture. Therefore it includes along other things visits to many different areas of KTH.

“It’s really good fun to visit schools other than my own and it’s very good that I can meet Ph.D. students from other parts of KTH. And these lunch meetings are really important, as I only speak English at my school.

After lunch, the meeting ends just over an hour later, with Tasos Koutoulas looking pretty tired. But we have managed to do the whole interview in Swedish, without cheating in English at all.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius